Off to visit the Mayans – Day 6, Tulum

We slept in on the sixth day. Our vacations are those that you NEED vacation from, but all of us seem to thrive in action, yes even Sahana, if she is not dragged out early.

After yet another chocolate croissant Starbucks breakfast we got in Escargot to drive 40 Km to Tulum. Both the children had enough of ruins at this point but not their ruin loving mother. Tulum was built between the 13th and the 15th century and was an important port for trade, especially obsidian. The ruins, perhaps, do not match in grandeur with the impressive ones at Chichen Itza or Uxmal but the setting of the ruins is indeed spectacular! It stands on a bluff facing the east and the ancient shrine of the Diving God greets the rising sun every day over the breathtakingly beautiful Caribbean sea.




I am not sure what word would describe the blueness of the ocean. There was not just one blue though, there were different hues and shades of blue. No matter how talented an artist or a painter is, can they ever produce that perfect hue in their canvases or papers? Is that blue an example of what perfection is? Just so? Not a bit more and not a bit less? As I read my journal, I see I wrote down ‘pristine, turquoise, aqua marine – none of these seem to really bring forth the true hue of the color blue.’

The children decided to jump in the water while Sean and I continued to tour the entire site paying homage to the reigning deity of the area – the descending god. It is a figure with legs splayed upwards and head down diving from the sky to the ocean.

According to Ancient History Encyclopedia:

The Temple of the Descending God, located at Tulum, is an intricately designed structure which is illuminated brightly by the setting sun every April 6th – which is the birthday of The Descending God (so named because he is always depicted with his feet in the air)and is carefully aligned with the planet Venus. While it has long been held that Tulum is the only temple complex to depict the Descending God, his image has been found elsewhere. Attempts to link him to the figure of Jesus Christ have been dismissed by all reputable scholarly authorities.

The camera, as some of you know, is almost surgically attached to my hip. As I walked the ruined walls at the edge of the cliff and looked down at the brilliant emerald sea beneath, I kept stopping to take pictures. And when I looked at them later, I discovered I had taken picture of the same scene again and again – a multitude of times, obsessively. My desire, perhaps, to capture the entire day, along with the blue sky, the wispy clouds, the magnificent ruins, the mass of humanity speaking various languages of the world, the sea, the moments, my family, my feelings of joy and fulfillment, in each shot.

After walking throughout the site, Sean stripped to his swimming trunks and entered the water. I did not bring any change of clothes. Nor did I have swim suit underneath. So, like a true Indian, I followed my husband in the water, fully clothed. And had the best time swaying with the waves.

Finally, when nobody could ignore the pangs of hunger any longer, we made a unanimous decision to bid adieu to the sea, the sand and the ruins to head towards Akumal, north of Tulum, towards Playa Del Carmen. We were on a mission to find the restaurant La Buena Vida in Akumal, as suggested by some fellow travelers from Canada. The nachos there were to ‘die for’ they said. The setting of the restaurant, on a tiny cliff by the sea, was unparalleled, they said. We had no directions, no GPS and Sean refused to ask directions. By sheer instinct he got us there while I grumbled about typical male pride about directions. He parked the car and said, ‘Here you go, we found it!’ smugly as we walked in. There were palapas roofs on picnic tables by the water and we were directed to one of those.

La buena vida – the good life. The name is chosen from one of the cardinal principles of the ancient Mayans, live the present moment fully. Be in the moment. Nothing is more important than being in the moment, living it, doing it justice. The worries can wait.

I live by the important (for me) mantra ‘This too shall pass’. In moments of sorrow, this thought gives me solace and the courage to face my sorrow. In moments of joy, this reminds me that happiness too is transient and I must make the most of it. The memory of the happy times become that jewel that I wear around my being, which embellishes my soul. Hence the photos, hence the journal.

I remember sitting there with my little family looking at the vibrant blue water, the coral reefs afar, the gentle sway of the palm trees, the yellow sand beneath my feet, I thought ‘this moment too shall pass’. But I am so grateful to HAVE this moment, to be able to live it fully. I remember thinking this must be what true happiness feels like…la buena vida.

We drove back to Merida on the seventh day and headed back home on the eighth morning. I brought back happy times, laughter, thoughts, bonding and the realization how different traveling with the children is becoming. I remember hauling luggage and entertaining both of them during long flights to India. This time, however, Sahana navigated the airports, Ryan lugged around our heavy suitcase and a backpack. My offers to help carry luggage were refused with ‘we got this, Mom!’ I ended up carrying only my purse the entire trip. That was sweet, but somehow bittersweet.

This was the last post of the trip. Thank you so much for reading my journey and being a part of it. I appreciate you all greatly.

Off to visit the Mayans – Day 5, Xcaret.

If any of you have traveled with a teenager, you probably know to give them a wide berth after waking them up early (very early) to catch a plane, bus or train. We woke Sahana up amidst whines and groans to catch our scheduled Easy Tour van at 8:30 am to go see Xcaret (eshcaret). Xcaret is one of Maya Riviera’s most popular destination – a ‘eco archaelogical’ theme park where one can go snorkeling in the part underground river, relax on their impossibly soft, yellow sandy beaches, swim with the fishes, pet dolphins, eat a 28 course buffet lunch, visit a mariposa (butterfly) garden, take pictures with macaw on one’s shoulders, see soft pink flamingos, tapirs, pumas, jaguars, turtles – all this at a high price. And yes, it does possess the ambience of a Disney theme park. You can have your adventure under well controlled environment.

After packing our bio-degradable sunscreen (only bio degradable are allowed since you get up close and personal with sea creatures), swim suits, change of clothes, hats, shades et all, we grandly exited our Adventure Experience Hotel after greeting the lovely receptionist a cheery, ‘Buenos Diaz’. Sahana just grumbled.

We had no time for a sit down breakfast so we ran to grab something from a nearby Starbucks. Cafe latte and chocolate croissant for me, chocolate croissants for Sahana and Ryan while Sean got something distasteful and healthy – egg white and cheese sandwich. We chomped on our breakfast while waiting for the van and slowly, like the rising sun, Sahana’s disposition became sunny with every bite of the croissant. It is funny what chocolate can do to a choco lover.

The van arrived promptly at 8:30 am and after stopping to pick up some other fellow Xcaret adventurers, it dropped us off in the expert hands of our guide, who then expounded upon the do’s and don’t’s of the theme park for the next 20 minutes – in Spanish! After 10 minutes or so, Ryan asked, “Can we please just go?”

Finally his very elaborate lecture ended, he extracted promises from us to meet him at the exact spot no later than 9:20 pm and after procuring that he let us loose and left us to our own mischief.

The plan was simple. Three of my family members would get on a boat with their rented snorkeling gear and get thrown off the boat mid-ocean to swim with fishes while I would find a lounge chair by the aqua marine water and update my journal.

Snorkeling in mid-ocean was not my idea of fun. As we waited for Sean, Sahana and Ryan to board their boat, we watched people getting kissed by dolphins, petting them, hugging them, playing with them – at a steep price. When Sahana heard how much it cost to touch a dolphin, she exclaimed, ‘Gosh, no!’

Macaws at Xcaret.
Macaws at Xcaret.

As the children and Sean waved goodbye to me and their boat turned a corner, I walked back to the beach, found a quiet spot under a beach umbrella and brought out my notebook and pen to retrace our steps with words. I realized a smile often formed at the corner of my lips as I recalled a particular incident in our journey together, a special moment of bonding as my notebook filled up in that hour and a half.

The gorgeous indescribable blue water.
The gorgeous indescribable blue water.



After an exuberant retelling of how exciting the snorkeling was, how fearless Ryan and Sahana were, how many fishes they saw and how they separated from the group to swim with a sea turtle, we went to an elaborate and sumptuous lunch in an international restaurant within the park (the price of the ticket included the buffet) which incorporated varied local delicacies along with dishes like pasta, fish and chips etc to accommodate all kinds of taste.

My plate. I went back for seconds and thirds.
My plate. I went back for seconds and thirds.

The next adventure was snorkeling down a part underground river – along with the mother this time. The water in the river was about 6 feet deep and the mother had already asked the guide in very broken Spanish whether it was safe for someone who can not swim well to go down it. The guide had said, ‘Oh sure!’ The mother was not sure if something had gone lost in translation. Bravely donning my snorkeling gear I took my valiant husband’s hand as I flopped my flippers on the stairs going down to the river. The first touch of water sent shivers down my spine. It was a chilly 75 degree Fahrenheit. There were two options to go down the river – one way was outside, lit up by the sun and pleasant foliage overhead to form a lovely canopy over your head, or the dark, sinister tunnel through which the river flew secretly and where the rays of the sun were prohibited. Ryan chose the tunnels. And I unhappily complied. Mistake.

I have claustrophobia and I have a fear of water. An unhappy combination if you are about to float down a river that flows through pitch black tunnels. As soon as we entered the tunnels, floating and splashing, I knew I was in trouble. I felt panic rising in my throat. And for a few moments I thought I could not do this. The tunnels were pitch black, there was not a single glimmer of light to illuminate our way, we had to feel for the sides of the caverns through which we floated by or jutting rocks with our hand. While struggling with my fears of enclosed space and drowning, I felt something touch my legs.

“Sean, is that you? Did you just touch my legs?” I screamed.

“No, I am right here. Next to you. Here hold my hand.” He said.

“Oh my gosh, something touched my leg. Something living touched my leg. A rat touched my leg!” I was almost hyperventilating in panic.

“No rats, no rats. Rats will drown here!” He tried to pacify.

“Then it was a snake! We are swimming through sewage water with rats and snakes! Why did you agree to come through the tunnels? Why did we not go the other way?  It is all your fault!” I was wailing.

“You are doing great! I am right next to you!” The good man consoled me as he pulled me along.

A man, trying to navigate his family around my thrashing legs, had touched my legs. Not rats, not snakes, I discovered in a few minutes, when he said a fearful sorry – fearing my madness!

Thankfully at regular intervals there was sunlight pouring in through holes above us. We found Sahana waiting there for us, waiting to see how her brave mother was faring. She too, did not like the dark and was complaining that Ryan always gets his way about everything. Floating down the river in the sunlight would have been so much more pleasant. After gulping down the sunshine at these breaks, I sorrowfully plunged in the murky dark waters again, just to get to the end of it. Those moments of light were such blissful ones. I truly appreciated the phrase ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ when the tunnels regurgitated us floaters into clear water and blinding sunlight. Surprisingly though, somewhere between starting the river journey and ending it I learnt to rely on my life vest and finally started believing I was not going to drown. Somewhere along the way, when we got out into those sporadic moments of sunshine, I put my snorkeling gear on and put my face in the water, I learnt to breathe through my mouth. Somewhere along the way, I pried loose my fingers and let my tightly held fear slip away. Instead I grasped on to the belief that I can do this. And that is when I started having fun. As I put my face in the water and opened my eyes, once the tunnels ended and we emerged onto the sunlight, I discovered a brilliant world underneath me. Fishes of different hues swimming along beneath me. It was a moment of wonder, a boon of sight – ‘I once was blind but now I can see’ moment.

The day ended with a truly spectacular show of the cultures of Mexico which dated from the cultural aspects of Ancient Mayans and ended with modern-day Mariachi music.

Ancient Mayans playing a game resembling field hockey with a ball of fire.
Ancient Mayans playing a game resembling field hockey with a ball of fire.

By the end of the show the people in the entire stadium, irrespective of their country of origin, were rocking, clapping and chanting “Mexico, Mexico” It was a moment of bonding with the beautiful, hospitable, very pleasant people of a truly enchanting country of rich cultural heritage.

We kept our promise and returned to the tour guide by 9:20 pm. We were dropped back at our hotel tired, hungry and very content. After a quick dinner of lousy pizza and a promise to Sahana that we will let her sleep in tomorrow, we turned the lights out.

Oh, and if you are worrying about my infected finger still….rest easy, the antibiotics are working. Both the swelling and the pain are down. Dreaming of the ruins of Tulum that we plan to see tomorrow…

Off to visit the Mayans – Day 4, Playa Del Carmen

The fourth day was unplanned. We had run ragged since we arrived in Mexico, so we decided to take a day of rest. Fortified with painkillers and antibiotics, I peeked out at the sunshiny day outside from our hotel room and greeted it with a wide smile. The sun did the same.

Sean got roped into listening to a vacation share sales pitch. I grudgingly agreed to it since the deal was they would give us heavily reduced tickets to the eco theme park Xcaret if we gave the sales team our time. We sat through the sales pitch in a beautiful resort while the children played on the beach. We refused to shell out $20,000 to buy two weeks of vacation and came back with four tickets to the eco theme park.

Mexican food is delicious but after four days of tacos (the children disliked the authentic tacos there since the meat was chopped and not ground and the taco sauce was different than what they are used to in the US), pibil, guacamole, nachos we were ready for a change of palate. We craved some soul food – Italian! We lunched in an Italian restaurant on fifth Avenue in Playa Del Carmen where the food was delicious and the price was exorbitant. Sea food fettucine for me, gnocchi for Sahana and Sean, salmon and shrimp pizza for Ryan, which he did not like.

After lunch we strolled back leisurely to our hotel, nodding to the local shop owners, smiling at fellow tourists. We came back, changed in our swim suits and found our beach by 3:45 pm. While the man and his cubs frolicked in the water, I donned my hat, shades, sarong and went on a long walk along the beach. Beach attracts me for the blue ocean, the faraway horizon where the ocean raises to kiss the cloud filled blue sky, the spectacular sunsets, the salty tang of air, the gritty feel of the sand beneath my feet, the intricate carvings on an abandoned sea shell. It also brings me close to the stillness, the carefree joy, the familial bonding that my fellow humans bring to the beach. Very rarely do I see wo/men bent over their electronic devices. They either rest, play, sunbathe, walk, bond, laugh by the water or in it. This coming together of nature and mankind makes me happy. I am both the observer and the absorber of nature and man.

The evening was dedicated to the beautiful beach city of Playa Del Carmen. Locals lamented the loss of its beauty and simplicity with the booming tourism and development of this area. As Cancun got overcrowded resorts started buying up property and developing Playa. Gone are Playa Del Carmen’s sleepy days. The city now dons a new apparel every night and glitters for the people who come to visit. We dined at a 100 percent natural Mexican restaurant, which the grown ups loved and the children did not care for.

After a satisfying, all natural, healthy meal at Playa Del Carmen.
After a satisfying, all natural, healthy meal at Playa Del Carmen.

Then we walked the entire length of Fifth Avenue as Sahana and Ryan licked their double scoops of ice cream from a glittery Haagen Daaz. There were men on stilts, overpriced artifacts, trinkets, masks, designer stores with that homogenous smell of designer perfumes. There were ferrets, snakes and baby Chow chows to be petted and taken pictures with, if you paid. Local artists painted on the roadsides and sold their paintings. Musicians serenaded diners in open air restaurants. We ended up at Punta Playa (the port of Playa) where we sat with local families and watched street performers performing skits in Spanish. Sean drew me closer and flicked his head up at the sky. I looked up following his gaze to see the splendidly shining moon finally emerging from behind some dark clouds, over the ocean. Sean found my hand and held on. We stood there for a while, my back against my husband as the moon played hide and seek with us and slowly, ever so slowly, disappeared again. How perfect was that moment!


We were back at the hotel by 10:30 pm and were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. Xcaret tomorrow – snorkeling, floating down secret river, flamingos, dolphins…

Off to visit the Mayans – Day 3, Chichen Itza and Playa Del Carmen

We checked out from our hotel Dolores Alba in Merida by 8:00 am on Tuesday morning and started our journey to see Chichen Itza – arguably the most visited Pyramid built by the ancient Mayans. After an uneventful drive of one hour and twenty seven minutes (Sahana timed it) we arrived at the gate of the ruins. As we parked Escargot and looked around us, we knew this site will not the have peace, quiet and relative silence of Uxmal. There were busloads of tourists with loud guides speaking different languages, people selling their wares everywhere. There were artifacts and trinkets, ice cream and cold drinks, masks and men dressed up as Mayan warriors, there were also little monkeys and a two month old baby lion. One could take pictures with them at a price.

As we made our way inside the site of ruins, the impressive Kukulkan Pyramid, also known as El Castillo stood up against the azure blue sky, just like it always has for centuries before. For a few minutes, I became oblivious of my surroundings as I was transported to the Early Classic period (around 600 AD) when the city of Chichen Itza rose into prominence.

According to

‘Chichen Itza which means “at the mouth of the well of Itza “, is the 2nd most visited archeological site of Mexico today. The Kukulkan Pyramid in Chichen-Itza which known as “El Castillo” (the castle), is one of the new seven wonders of the world elected in 07.07.2007. It is exactly 24 m. high considering the upper platform.’

There are four stairways each with 91 steps ending at a single top step at the temple’s entrance. The number of steps add up to 365 – a step for each day in the Mayan Calendar.


Columns of Thousand warriors

The ruins of the city of Chichen Itza were majestic and grand and very, very catered to tourists. The presence of hawkers trying to eke out a living from this often visited site took away the essence that I wished to experience. It was too hot, too crowded, too noisy. A part of me tried to justify the tourism based economy but a huge part of me deplored it. There were hawkers everywhere trying to sell knick knacks at exorbitant prices. “Almost free” chant followed us everywhere. Hawkers started to converse with me in Spanish expecting the Mayan looking woman to translate to the gringo with her. The Mayan looking woman, however, smiled sweetly and hastily notified, “No habla Espanol” and the gringo, fluent in Spanish, took over.


After four very hot hours in Chichen Itza, the children took an ice cream break. All four of us were hot, flushed and ready to move on. We slowly made our way out to Escargot, in quiet contemplation of the Kukulkan Pyramid in its heyday. We poured some cold water on ourselves and headed towards south. Our next destination for the four days was Playa Del Carmen, just 42 miles south of the more famous Cancun. A fine moment of ‘I told you so’ arrived when my husband disregarded my suggestion of filling up the car in the city of Vallodolid before entering the Cancun Cuota (highway), thinking he will fill it up on the way. Well, he thought wrong! As we kept going on the almost empty highway and the gas indicator kept dipping dangerously, we discovered the next gas station was 93 kilometers away! I kept one eye on the indicator and other out for salida (exits)! We finally arrived at a toll booth where Sean pointed to the gas gauge and asked if there was a gas station nearby where he could fill up! Fortunately we were not the only clueless tourists who found themselves in similar predicament on that particular highway. The lady at the toll booth assured us they could sell us a couple of liters of gas that will take us to the gas station situated at the outskirts of Cancun. We bought the gas – at a steep price, of course! And off we went.

The Cancun cuota, as the name suggests, takes us straight down to the beach city of Cancun from Chichen Itza. It is a pleasant drive, a pretty drive – if the gas tank in your car is full, stomach is full and your bladder empty. They were no exits to get off and buy food or use restrooms.

We eventually made it to a gas station with the little gas we bought at the toll booth. Finally with a full tank of gas, a relieved heart (mine) and empty bladder we started on our Cancun adventure, except we had no clue where to go. Sean kept saying, ‘Keep looking guys! Tell me if you see something interesting and we will stop!’ But by the time we said, ‘Hey, that looks like a fun place! Let us stop there’, he had driven away. At that point we were all cranky with hunger and were snapping at each other like a herd of crocodiles! We could not find places to park, we could not figure out the lay of the land and we kept driving away from abodes of the food god. It was an utter mess! Finally we saw a very generic looking mall as a last resort before we killed and ate each other. And surprisingly enough a lovely restaurant was found by the bayside, right next to Hooters.

After dunch (lunch and dinner, since it was 5:30 pm by that point) we decided to abandon our initial plan of exploring Cancun and headed towards our final destination for the day – Playa Del Carmen.

Playa was easy enough to find, but the grid system of the roads was a bit more challenging to figure out, at least in my brain. My wizard of the path finder husband sorted out th grid system quickly enough and we found our temporary shelter Adventure Experience Hotel without much trouble. The hotel was half a block from the famous fifth avenue of Playa Del Carmen and a five minutes walk to the beach. I can only recommend the hotel for it’s location but unfortunately, for nothing else. Since we decided to spend our days touring different areas around Playa, the hotel was adequate for us.

At this point, my sore finger needs to be mentioned. As the days passed, I looked at it with increasing anxiety and a morbid awe. I had been popping painkillers to manage the constant pain and throbbing, since without the painkillers the pain was intense enough to wake me up from an exhausted sleep. The finger had swollen up like a sausage and the pus around the site had assumed a sickening yellowish green under the tender skin. I knew I was in trouble but I was also determined to get through the vacation without any sort of intervention. I figured I will have it taken care of once I went home.

Once we settled into our hotel, showered, changed and went out to stretch our legs, Sean insisted we go to a pharmacy and get my finger examined. The pharmacist looked at my finger, shook his head and rattled off in Spanish. All I got out of that conversation was ‘un medico’! We walked a block to a different pharmacy where a doctor had an office but unfortunately the doctor’s office was closed. Sean still dragged me to talk to the pharmacist and explained my situation and showed my finger. While all the talk in Spanish was going on I lost focus on my surroundings and looked at my angry finger, finally admitting to myself I needed antibiotics and my finger was badly infected. I was vaguely aware of two very young women in tank tops and a young man standing in that pharmacy next to us. While I stood there feeling sorry for myself, one of the young women came over to me, took my hand and started probing and prodding the wound. I was first stunned at this breach of personal space and then when electric shocks of pain registered in my brain I snatched my hand away from her and said, semi-politely, ‘My finger hurts, I need doctor!’ The woman smiled sweetly and pointed to herself, ‘Doctor!’ She WAS the doctor who had just finished her office hours and was on her way home when we waylaid her with my infected finger. She examined my wound, wrote a prescription for antibiotics and advised me to be strong since Sean will have to poke a hole and drain the finger. I gulped. When Sean offered to pay for her consultation, she refused payment, smiled again and wished us good luck.

Armed with syringes, hydrogen peroxide, gauze, iodine, bandaids, antibiotic tablets and antiseptic cream we returned to our hotel room. After washing his hands twice my valiant husband started ominously fiddling with the syringes in a poorly lit hotel bathroom – in Mexico! All of a sudden I chuckled. This is what memories are made of, I suppose! The good, bad and the ugly!

‘Are you ready?’ He asked.

‘As ready as I will ever be! Let’s do this!’

I called Sahana, who showed a very gleeful interest in the whole process, to hold down my hand. As I looked away, I helped my husband by saying ‘Don’t put an air bubble in my vein. That will kill me!’ (He was, of course, nowhere near a vein. I am just evil like that:) ).

And then he plunged the syringe into the skin. And then the pain…